Laura Elliot

A Moment With: Laura Elliot

Vintage: New Ed Edition, July 1996

Vintage: New Ed Edition, July 1996

The Enduring Memory of a Handmaid’s Tale

I like books that scare me. The ones that keep my heart racing and my finger compulsively turning the pages – or, in in this era of Kindle, twitching on the next-page command. Such books usually conjure up a grim, dystopian world and leave me wondering if they could actually materialise as science advances and technology reaches further and further into our personal lives.

It must be twenty years since I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood yet I can still bring the details of that story vividly to mind. Briefly, it’s about a totalitarian society that reforms after a nuclear explosion lays most of the United States to waste. The land is contaminated and many of the women who survived the catastrophe have become infertile. In this new, male dominated society these women are sent to clear up the nuclear waste and suffer obvious consequences as a result. The only ones to avoid this fate are the wives of the men in power –these men are known as The Commanders –and the ‘handmaids,’ young women like Offred, the narrator, who have remained fertile and are capable of producing children to populate this new world order.

The self-imposed belief in The Republic of Gilead is that only women are infertile, men remain fertile. This, of course, is untrue so many of these handmaids are unable to conceive and live in dread of being sent to the contaminated wastelands. Their babies, if they do conceive, will belong to The Commanders and their wives.

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